Balanced diet boosts brain health and cognitive function

Researchers from the University of Warwick have unveiled a profound link between dietary choices and brain health. The study, which involved the analysis of 181,990 participants from the UK Biobank, has shed new light on the impact of food preferences on both physical and mental wellbeing.

The research delved into a range of physical evaluations, including cognitive function, blood metabolic biomarkers, brain imaging, and genetics, to gain insights into the relationship between nutrition and overall wellbeing. The participants’ food preferences were collected through an online questionnaire, and with the help of machine learning, the researchers categorized the data into 10 groups, such as alcohol, fruits, and meats.

The findings, published in Nature, revealed that a healthy and balanced diet is associated with superior brain health, enhanced cognitive function, and improved mental wellbeing. Participants who adhered to a balanced diet exhibited higher amounts of grey matter in the brain, which is linked to intelligence, compared to those with a less varied diet.

Moreover, the study emphasized the need for gradual dietary modifications, especially for individuals accustomed to highly palatable but nutritionally deficient foods. By gradually reducing sugar and fat intake over time, individuals may naturally gravitate towards healthier food choices.

The researchers also highlighted the influence of genetic factors on the association between diet and brain health, emphasizing how a combination of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices shapes overall wellbeing.

Lead Author Professor Jianfeng Feng of the University of Warwick stressed the importance of establishing healthy food preferences early in life, stating, “Developing a healthy balanced diet from an early age is crucial for healthy growth. Both families and schools should offer a diverse range of nutritious meals and cultivate an environment that supports physical and mental health.”

Addressing the broader implications of the research, Professor Feng emphasized the role of public policy in promoting accessible and affordable healthy eating options. He stated, “Since dietary choices can be influenced by socioeconomic status, it’s crucial to ensure that this does not hinder individuals from adopting a healthy balanced dietary profile. Implementing affordable nutritious food policies is essential for governments to empower the general public to make informed and healthier dietary choices, thereby promoting overall public health.”

Co-Author Wei Cheng from Fudan University underscored the importance of promoting nutritional awareness and fostering healthier eating habits across diverse populations, urging for concerted efforts in this direction.

Dr. Richard Pemberton, a Certified Lifestyle Physician and GP at Hexagon Health, who was not involved in the study, commented on the research, saying, “This exciting research further demonstrates that a poor diet detrimentally impacts not only our physical health but also our mental and brain health. This study supports the need for urgent government action to optimize health in our children, protecting future generations. We also hope this provides further evidence to motivate us all to make better lifestyle choices, to improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.”